What's it like covering COVID-19 inside hard-hit Iran?

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By Whitney Johnson, Director of Visual and Immersive Experiences

For five minutes, standing in a vast, nearly empty cemetery in Iran, photographer Newsha Tavakolian didn’t think of the COVID-19 pandemic ripping through her country.

“Suddenly a man playing a flute appeared out of nowhere.” Newsha told us from Tehran. “He played for us. It helped.”

Her silhouetted image of the musician (above) epitomizes the delicate way the acclaimed photographer has been covering the scourge. Her nation’s leaders restrict journalistic travel and access—and have been sensitive of coverage. The news is awful: Iran’s death rate from the coronavirus has rivaled Italy’s for the highest in the world. What little we see from Iran: satellite images of burial pits for COVID-19 victims or the dangerously crowded streets and shops around the Persian New Year, known as Nowruz.

Aware of the restrictions, Newsha has to pick her shots as her nation moves in slow motion. “The confinement also opens your eyes,” she says. “I noticed one of the neighbors, a lonely man. He comes to sit in the lobby every day hoping people will talk to him. In my usual routine I didn’t notice.”

Flowers also speak to her (below), as do subtle changes in traditions. Note Newsha’s mother and sister are touching these flowers on her father’s grave with plastic gloves, for safety.

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For weeks Newsha has been under another restriction—self-quarantine. It has given her time to reflect on her past priorities, on her workaholism, as she puts it. She has talked to friends on the phone, caught up on movies at home.

She’s noticed another thing: “People now see how little money and status matters, and prefer to focus on what they love,” she says.

Read more of Newsha’s journey: ‘We are facing this ordeal all together’

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Coronavirus update

Careful, readers: We yearn for cheerful images in these grim times. But a series of phonied-up or misrepresented photos have flooded the internet in recent days, purporting to show wildlife revisiting urban areas that have been cleaner with the coronavirus shutdown of industry and travel, writes Nat Geo’s Natasha Daly. Here’s a way to tell if that photo is real. Note: If you still want cheerful (authentic) images of animals, Nat Geo’s Rachael Bale recommends these.

Your Instagram photo of the day

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Respect: Monastics stand in the plumes from smoke offerings while waiting for the cremation ceremony of a well-known and respected religious leader in the hills above Kathmandu Valley in Nepal.

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Today in a minute

Plagiarism or not? How does a local photographer react when a world-famous photographer comes to town and composes image that are similar? F-stoppers covers the dispute between Solmaz Daryani and award-winning photographer Maximillian Mann. Daryani says Mann parachuted in—and appropriated the composition of her earlier photographs. Mann acknowledges some similarities, but argues that he did significant independent research. Mann also says his critics are ignoring the huge diversity of Daryani’s work.

At home in the city: With his Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex, Akinbode Akinbiyi has captured the pulse of cities in Africa, the U.S., and Europe. His work from Lagos, Johannesburg, Cairo, and Kinshasa forms the heart of his exhibition at the FotoFest Biennial 2020 in Houston. “He brings to the audience an understanding of what it means to give and also to take with grace and calm,” exhibition curator Mark Sealy tells the Washington Post.

Calling young photographers: Shooting for the Sunday Times, Ian Perry was only 24 when he was killed in the violence surrounding Romania’s overthrow of a Communist dictator. For the past 30 years, a scholarship in his name has opened doors for young photographers to master classes, awards, and a career. If you are 24 or younger—or attending a full-time photography course—apply here by July 5.

The big takeaway

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Away from people: In the forested mountains of eastern Kentucky, Delaney Doyle and her family have stayed away from crowds of people for years. Lucas Foglia photographed Doyle (above, holding edible daylilies she picked) for a Nat Geo project illustrating scientific evidence of how nature helps us. Even as many of us are mainly confined to homes these days to wait out the coronavirus pandemic, officials recognize the need for exercise and nature. Even in areas with stringent shelter-in-place directions, there are exceptions for walking pets and for exercise (as long you are practicing social distancing).

Subscriber exclusive: This is your brain on nature

Photo tip of the week

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On Mondays, Debra Adams Simmons covers the latest in history. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Victoria Jaggard on science, George Stone on travel, and Rachael Bale on animal and wildlife news.

One last glimpse

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First in space? Could three men go 75,000 feet up into the stratosphere? That was the goal of Explorer I in 1934. It didn’t happen, says Sara Manco, our senior photo archivist. “While ascending, a rip in the Goodyear balloon caused the gondola to plummet and forced the pilots to bail and parachute to the ground.” C. O. Deadmore caught the pilots and the downed balloon in a Nebraska cornfield. “I love the texture of the photo, like I could touch the balloon,” Manco says. “I also love the men standing in the background, likely farmers having a normal day of work when a metal gondola came crashing into their crop field.” Note: The following year, Explorer II launched—successfully.

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Eslah Attar selected the photographs. Have an idea or a link? We’d love to hear from you at . Thanks for reading